Giorgio Moroder (top) and Kraftwerk
In November 2012, we started a series called ‘Take Five’, which would recommend five albums or artistes from various genres of international music. This series will be carried once in two months. The first three parts talked of British alternative rock, classical crossover and world music, respectively. This month, we look at five pioneers of electronic music.
TODAY, the world is tripping on electronic dance music, or EDM, as acts like David Guetta, Avicii, Deadmau5 and Swedish House Mafia are attracting thousands of fans at packed venues. With its Sunburn festival and various standalone events, India too has attracted the top DJs, right from Paul Oakenfold and Paul van Dyk to Armin van Buuren and Tiesto.
EDM is only one of the forms of electronic music, where music is produced through synthesisers and computers, avoiding acoustic instruments. Over the years, there have been various other categories, and it’s not necessary that all of them have to be danced to. Without getting into details, some popular styles include electronica, big beat, techno, trance, dubstep, ambient, trip-hop, electronic rock, breakbeat, drum ‘n’ bass, jungle, synthpop, industrial, garage and, of course, good old disco, in which many EDM artistes trace their roots.
Hardcore fans are very touchy about their specific tastes, often looking down at those who listen to any other kind of electronic music. For instance, a house music fan will find a trance follower weird, and a trance addict will wonder what’s so great about electronic rock.
What’s more is that each of these is further broken down into numerous sub-categories. For instance, trance itself is divided into psychedelic trance, progressive trance, tech trance, Euro trance, Goa trance, Ibiza trance, acid trance, dream trance, etc etc. Confused? Never mind, the fans know what they are listening to, or at least they think so.
These days, electronic music has become so popular that every other day, one hears of some new stars. The younger generation, in particular, loves this genre, and adores the latest biggies. Not many would, however, know or bother about how electronic music started, and who were the early pioneers.
Keeping that in mind, this column mentions five such acts which have played a major role in establishing electronic music in some form or the other. But before that, a few bits of important information about the actual roots.
To begin with, the first electronic instrument ever made was called the theremin, developed by Russian physicist Leon Theremin back in 1924. Another major figure was German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, who inspired a generation of musicians across all genres, including electronic music.
These two people were arguably the fathers of electronic music. But when we think of electronic music in the popular sense of the term, the following five acts have played a pioneering role. There are others too, no doubt, and we shall mention some of them at the end of this feature. But the role played by these five has been immense.
Kraftwerk: Formed in 1970 by Ralf Hutter and Florian Schneider in Dusseldorf, Germany, Kraftwerk was one of the earliest groups to popularise electronic music. Though it used harmony inspired by western classical music, its sound was strictly electronic, creating vocals through a vocoder or computerised speech software.
The group became a huge success with its 1974 song ‘Autobahn’, and its albums ‘Radioaktivitat’ and ‘Trans Europe Express’ became popular. However, its super-success came with the 1978 album ‘Man Machine’, which had its biggest hit ‘The Model’. It later released ‘Tour de France soundtracks’ in 2003, coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the famous cycle race.
Kraftwerk was a huge influence on various artistes, including electronic music groups Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Ultravox, Depeche Mode, The Human League and Soft Cell, besides acts like Joy Division, New Order, Talking Heads, Pet Shop Boys and Bjork. Its song ‘Neon Lights’ was covered by U2 and Simple Minds.
Giorgio Moroder: Best known for his collaboration with singer Donna Summer on songs like ‘I Feel Love’ and ‘Love To Love You Baby’, Italy-born, US-settled Moroder was the most path-breaking producer of the disco era.
He also worked with artistes like Irene Cara, Blondie, Three Degrees and David Bowie, and was much in demand for his electronic disco sound, besides contributing to the films ‘Midnight Express’ and ‘Flashdance’.
While the late 70s and early 80s spawned similar artistes like Chic and the genre-defining Cerrone, Moroder was a hero for acts like New Order, Daft Punk, The Human League, Air, Royskopp, Yellow Magic Orchestra and even Madonna, besides a whole range of current EDM acts.
Brian Eno: He first became famous playing synthesisers for the art rock band Roxy Music, but boredom with touring and his rifts with frontman Bryan Ferry made him branch out on his own. Today, Eno is considered to be one of the biggest influences in electronic music, especially ambient sounds.
A self-professed ‘non-musician’, he popularised what is called ‘generative music’, where system-generated music keeps changing as several independent musical tracks blend. He collaborated with various artistes like David Bowie, Robert Fripp of the band King Crimson, David Byrne of Talking Heads to produce some experimental sounds.
The list of musicians followed by Eno includes the Chemical Brothers, Devo, Depeche Mode, Ultravox, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, Moby, Robert Miles, the Prodigy, Deep Forest and Groove Armada.
Tangerine Dream: Founded by Edgar Froese in Berlin, Germany, in 1967, Tangerine Dream inspired a lot of instrumental music of the 80s and 90s, and also on new age, space music and EDM. Along with Kraftwerk and other German bands of the 70s, it developed Krautrock, a form of electronic rock.
Best known for albums like ‘Phaedra’, ‘Rubycon’ and ‘Ricochet’. Tangerine Dream set norms for early trance music, with its use of lush soundscapes and synth pads along with repetitive synthesiser sequences. It influenced ambient artistes like Moby, The Orb, Aphex Twin, Deepspace and the Future Sound of London, besides bands like Radiohead, Porcupine Tree and Kasabian.
Jean Michel Jarre: The Frenchman is known as the European electronic music community’s premier ambassador, and has influenced a range of ambient and new age musicians. Like Greek composer Vangelis, he elevated the synthesiser to newer heights in the 70s and 80s, releasing acclaimed albums like ‘Oxygene’, ‘Equinoxe’ and ‘Rendez-vous’.
Jarre’s shows were characterised by blinding lights, flashy laser displays and ample pyrotechnics, and he holds the world record for the largest attendance at an outdoor event, attracting more than a million people at his shows. He is also the first western musician to perform in China.
Besides being a role model for the early generation of trance musicians, Jarre has been admired and followed by new age greats like Yanni and Kitaro.
While these may be five of the biggest pioneers of electronic music, the list is by no means complete. Over the years, many other artistes have impacted the way the genre sounds today.
Among the earlier lot, German musician Klaus Schulze is considered a progenitor in trance, and Greek composer Vangelis is known to create new styles in the use of the synthesiser. Depeche Mode, Gary Numan and Ultravox played a huge role in popularising electronic music commercially.
Of the 90s musicians, Moby has been a huge influence on various styles ranging from EDM, electronica, house and ambient music. Robert Miles set trends in ambient and house music, Basement Jaxx wrote some of the biggest progressive house anthems, whereas Massive Attack and Portishead defined the trip-hop sound. St Germain added a jazz sound to house music, and Radiohead has used a lot of electronic music in its alternative rock.
The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk, the Prodigy, Fatboy Slim and Morcheeba have written fresh rules in electronica and big beat. Paul Oakenfold, Paul van Dyk and Sasha were among those who helped popularise the DJ culture, and over the past four or five years, David Guetta has played a huge role in making EDM a household name.
The list of trendsetters is long. But the truth is that electronic music is not only huge today, but also promises to be the sound of the future.